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Is Online Poker Legal?

Online poker has been a popular pastime for well over a decade, enticing players who range from expert status to novice to give it a try. Hours likely have been spent on couches and in front of computer screens worldwide, playing a game that used to be strictly reserved for the big casinos and informal poker nights with friends.

The webosphere is filled with hundreds of online poker websites, providing a variety of options for poker players of all skill levels. But while the sites are readily available, their legality is a sketchy subject. The United States was lacking in uniform online gaming guidelines, making the area of placing bets online a murky one. However, in April 2011, what has come to be known as the "Black Friday" of online poker gaming took place. On that day, the U.S. Department of Justice took a hard line on online poker, drawing a proverbial line in the sand and seizing the domain names of the largest online poker websites, essentially making them unavailable to online poker players in the United States.

The Justice Department's actions left avid online poker players in the United States with only two options if they wished to continue their poker-playing habit: remove themselves from their couches and visit a casino to play a live game of poker, or log onto one of the many international online poker websites that cater to U.S. residents and play illegally.

And play illegally is exactly what many avid online poker players did.

But what, exactly, is illegal about online poker games? If live poker games are legal in the United States, what is so different about online games?

It's not the actual playing of the game or placing the bets that is illegal. It is only illegal to place bets online if one does so through a U.S. financial institution. Many players found ways around that by using prepaid visa cards, wire transfers and even money orders. While not illegal, it definitely is a creative way to skirt the ever-changing regulations on the online gaming industry within the United States.

However, finding new and creative ways by which to place online bets within the letter of the law may not be necessary much longer, because the U.S. government is starting to relax its grip on the online gaming industry, including online poker.

Fast-forward two years beyond the infamous Black Friday, and three states now permit legal, online poker betting: New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada. The Legislatures in all three of those states has legalized online gambling - which includes online poker - within their borders. This means residents of those states can comfortably and safely place their bets without fear of reprisal for breaking any internet gaming regulations.

There is a caveat, however. The new regulations apply only to residents physically living within the borders of those three states.

But there is some good news for residents who live outside of the borders of these three states. Legislatures in other states, such as New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, are exploring their online gaming regulations with the possibility of loosening the restrictions currently in place. If large numbers of players return to their online poker habits in the three states in which online gaming is not heavily regulated, it could be the push other states need in order to get on the online gaming industry bandwagon.

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